For those who want to get more into vintage, one of the biggest questions I get asked is…where do you go to buy vintage clothing? Vintage clothing can be hard to find because sometimes you feel like you’re endlessly searching only to find items that aren’t your size or style. But once you start exploring more, you’ll begin to get used to what different sellers offer and which ones are best for you. Here are some tips…
Vintage Shops are brick-and-mortar stores that sell vintage clothing. There could be a lot of options (or a little) depending on where you live and how popular vintage is in your area. The benefit of a physical shop is that you can try pieces on for fit, see the quality up close in person, and even get more details about the item from the shop-keepers. Shops are great for those who want a curated experience in person and come to like the style of certain buyers or shop owners. Once you find one (or a few shops) you like, you know you can return to find more of what you like in that style. And, if you form a great relationship with them, they may look out for things for you when buying for their shop.
Flea Markets usually occur regularly (weekly or monthly) in your area and have a mix of vendors that sell clothing, houseware, art, and a ton of other things you can’t even imagine. Flea markets are great for those who love the hunt…because you WILL hunt! You might find t-shirts for $2 in a bin of hundreds of shirts you need to rifle through. Or you might find curated racks of beaded dresses for over $200. The styles and price points will be all over the place. Once you go regularly, you will start to know which vendors you like best and where they are located within the market.
Tip: If you do find a vendor you like, make sure to get their contact information (or follow them on social!). Next time, they might be in a different spot and it’s nice to find out where they’ll be if you really love what they offer. Plus, if they specialize in something unique you’re looking for, you can keep in touch about future items that come in.
Online Independent Shops
There are endless amounts of small independent online vintage shops which makes it so much easier to shop when your town may not have a lot of great local options. This allows you to shop from anywhere in the world and support a small business owner. Finding these shops can be a mix of coming across them on Instagram, following others who wear vintage and share where they shop, and from exploring sites that feature sellers (like below). Here’s a list of some of my favorite online vintage sellers I put together in this Vintage Instagram Guide.
Etsy or eBay
When you’re just starting to shop vintage online, these sites can feel very overwhelming. But I actually find them to be the best when you’re looking for something specific because you can easily enter in a search term and explore the world of what’s available.
Start by narrowing down your category to the type of piece you are looking for. If you’re searching for a cool vintage dress, you can type in “vintage dress” but you’ll have to weed through thousands of listings. It’s better to get more specific even if that means a few different searches. Type in specific search terms like, “vintage Hawaiian floral dress”, “pink and green vintage dress”, “floral maxi dress”, and you’re likely to get a better batch of results. Also, if others whose style you like have public lists or collections, follow them! See mine here, for example.
Also, once you find sellers who sell here, they often have Instagram accounts, mailing lists, or their own e-commerce sites, and you can follow along for updates as they get new items! You can also check Gem which compiles together both Ebay and Etsy to help your search!
Tip: See more of my tips for buying vintage online here!
Thrift Shops (like Goodwill and Crossroads Trading Co.)
These shops are a lot like flea markets where it’s a good hodge-podge of items, and you’ll have to search to find some gems! And while you’ll like find something you love that was previously owned and loved, it might not be technically vintage (which is defined at something 20 years or older). The prices here will likely be decent and nothing too expensive, but make sure inspect the piece before you buy it. The larger scale stores are not always checking for flaws since they get so much coming in and out everyday so the experience is far less curated.
What’s the difference between finding vintage at a shop vs. at a flea market or thrift shop?
Whether online or in-person (or even a shop who has a booth at a flea market), a vintage shop owner tends to steer towards certain types of clothes and sells at certain price points. As you come across more and more shops (online or in-person), you’ll start to be able to get a sense more quickly if that style is right for you and if it fits your budget. Shop owners are likely to know more background into the history of pieces and if it has any extreme value or special history. While the experience will be more curated, the costs for clothing will also tend to be higher since someone is using their expertise and aesthetic to help bring the best items to you.
At a flea market, sellers may have found things at estate sales or are simply emptying their own closets. Thrift stores are usually donations or items on consignment from those in the community. You may some across a ton of inexpensive items but those will likely be much more of a mix of items to search through (which feels amazing when you find a great piece at a great price) but also takes more time. You can shop both (like I do!) or you may find a preference for one over the other.
P.S. See Part 1: How to Style Vintage Clothing to Look Modern and Part 2: Vintage Clothing and Sustainability
Photo by Casey Brodley